The Ramen Robot
The challenge that GoerTek, one of China's largest electronic components companies, provided the students from Kyoto Institute of Technology and Stanford University was broad and simple: use technology to create new experiences around food.
With such a broad project topic, the students explored many directions through needfinding and explorative prototyping. Can dishes be cleaned with ultrasonic technology? What can be done for people with severe dietary restrictions? Can sauces be created specifically for individual tastes? Can disposable plates and bowls be created from food waste?
While these investigations yielded mixed results, the students in the end focused on a big trend sweeping the world: food delivery. Services like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub are drastically increasing food delivery options and convenience. However, not all food can be easily delivered, especially ramen, the soul food of Japan.
This is not a problem in Japan where most people live in densely populated urban areas with abundance of local ramen restaurants within their reach. Some ramen restaurants even deliver within a small limited area. However, in the US, where cities are sparse and ramen restaurants are rare, ramen delivery simply isn't an option now. If a bowl of ramen is delivered like other food, taking ten or more minutes, it would become a soggy mush as the noodles would have absorbed too much liquid from the broth. This is simply not desirable.
In order to solve this problem, the team ultimately conceptualized and built a "ramen robot," a machine that can cook ramen "on the go." Utilizing the knowledge gained from attending ramen cooking classes and talking to experts, the team developed a system that can deliver freshly cooked ramen as the delivery vehicle drives up to the user's residence. An app can be used to customize every single bowl of ramen and track the progress of delivery.
Currently the idea is to mount this system in delivery vehicles akin to food trucks, but in the future, the idea is for autonomous vehicles to roam the city delivering fresh bowls of hot ramen to the masses.